Goldberg: Have you thought about doing your own record label?
Buck: I was just rereading F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Crack-Up." There's this cool thing this is a paraphrase "When I was younger I wanted to be everything. I wanted to be a combination of Lord Byron and J. P. Morgan" and he named some movie actor. He goes, "That's all gone now. That's burned out. I'm a writer, that's all I am." He was in pretty sad shape when he wrote that, and I certainly am not. But [when I was younger] I was like, "Yeah, I'll run my own label, I'll produce all these bands...."
I'm really two things now: I'm a guy who writes songs and plays them with a couple of bands, and I'm a father and a husband. And both of those take up all my fucking time. I manage to do a whole lot of work, but anything else I don't know where I'd fit in running a label. I'd have to give up something. Sleep? [laughs] I work all the time. Right now I'm doing music to a play and working eight hours on that and picking the kids up after school and putting them to bed, and then I'll work at night.
Goldberg: The Internet is allowing bands to communicate directly with their fans.
Buck: I like it. I would bet, through our Web site [remhq.com], that I'll do an instrumental solo record in the next two or three years.
Buck: I've got enough stuff put aside. And I never would go to a real label and say "Oh, sign me up." But I've got an album's worth of stuff that's either soundtrack stuff or stuff I did at my house that I'd like out there. My guess is that I'll look at all these things and compile 40 minutes of music and sell it only to people in the fan club. I write a lot, and I tend to write a lot of instrumental stuff that I like a lot that wouldn't necessarily fit on an R.E.M. record. I've got a CD duper in my house. [I could] dupe them off and Xerox 100 covers. I could just do them in my house. I like that idea. It's really close to the ground.
All my friends who used to be on major labels, what they do now is go in their basement and record really cool songs. They're really great. I like them better than their major-label records, maybe 'cause they're closer to the demo stage. They sell them at shows. I've got a couple of friends who were dropped by major labels who did that, and they said, "You know what, I made more money this year than when I was on [name the label], 'cause I'm making these records for free on my 8-track, pressing them up at $1.20 apiece and selling them at shows for $10, and I press up 5,000 of them and sell them in a year." I just think that's great.
Goldberg: How do you feel about Napster does it hurt musicians?
Buck: It doesn't bother me at all. I'm afraid that what it might do is put the real bottom-level bands out of business. Most of my friends have five jobs. They write songs, produce their own records, record the records, play live, produce other people's records, tour with other people, write songs for other people, try to do soundtrack stuff. And you pull out one of those, like making money on the records, and that means no tours. That means a day job. I could see how that could hurt. I notice that a lot of the little record stores [that I visited] last time I was in Portland are gone. I don't know if that's a result of that or not. All I know is within a block of here there used to be six or seven. I went to where two of those used to be today they're gone. So I don't know if it's the big chains or Napster but it's the smaller people that get hurt. It doesn't bother me. So what if I make a little less money next year? Big deal.
Goldberg: Some people say they use it to check out stuff and if they like it, buy the record.
Buck: Listen, I'm not worried about it. I think it's an interesting phenomenon. Anything that gets my records to more people is exciting for me. [But] Napster is going to go out of business anyway, the second they start charging. Bertelsmann [one of the five major music corporations] that was the stupidest move I've ever heard of a major organization doing. Putting millions of dollars into a company that gives away records. But the second that Napster is a pay-for-play thing, it'll go out of business. 'Cause they'll [Napster users] just use Gnutella or one of the other file sharers. Napster is going to go out of business the day they start charging. 'Cause it won't provide a service that you can't get for free.
Goldberg: Why do you think so much bad music has been popular these past few years?
Buck: These last 100 years? [laughs] I don't think it's a recent phenomenon. I grew up in the '70s. And I've got to say, '70s radio in retrospect sounds pretty damn good. Do you remember the '80s at all? Do you remember what was on the radio in the '80s? It was a fuckin' wasteland. If you were lucky they'd play the U2 single U2 were cool. I can't think of a band in the '80s, short of U2 and us at the very end, that had hit records I could be wrong. Name me a band from the '80s that had hit singles that were any good. I remember the '80s it was as bad then as it is now. The '90s weren't all that great. It was great to see Nirvana in there, and we had a hit single, and U2 still had hit singles. We never had to go to those commercial stations before "Losing My Religion." I'd go to them and I'd look at their playlists and you'd want to throw up.
Goldberg: It seemed like in the early '90s there was a lot of rock that was getting out there by a fair amount of bands that were pretty good. But now, on the surface, everything you see has been this teen pop and Britney, and you have to go down a few levels there's this big gap.
Buck: I think that's good. I think rock 'n' roll is going to be what jazz was in the '60s. The '60s, for me, was jazz's most interesting era. I'm not a big-band guy. I like the free stuff, whether it's Coltrane or Ayler or Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Mingus. Those are things I play all the time. They'd come out and sell 3,000 copies. I read that in the Mingus biography, that "Ahm Ah" came out and sold 2,500 copies the year it came out. That's an all-time classic record. And it was being outsold probably 1,000 to one by Frankie Avalon. So what do you say? What are the times and what does it mean? There's great music out there. You find it, and the great stuff lives. I've got all those Atlantic Mingus records on CD, and you'd be hard pressed to find a Frankie Avalon CD nowadays.
Goldberg: When you think about what you've done as part of R.E.M. up until now, what are you most proud of?
Buck: I'm proud that we've done as much good work as we have and have kept it together. We haven't ever done anything in pursuit of success or fame. We turned our back on it all through the '80s. I felt strongly that when everyone else was doing glitzy MTV videos, we were playing clubs and turning in videos of rocks upside down. Or a dog walking through Howard Finster's gardens. We'd make these $2,000 art films and they'd play them once at 3 a.m. We knew. Everyone was going, "You guys could be rich and famous if you guys just turned in some videos with you lip-synching and dancing and chicks in bikinis." We just thought, "Hey, we don't care." And we don't care. We never have cared. You can dislike the band and that's totally acceptable, but we've never done a single thing in pursuit of selling records or being rich or famous. We want to make great records, and we still have a ways to go on that one.
Goldberg: There aren't a whole lot of bands that could say that.
Buck: Oh, I could think of a million. But most of them haven't been famous or rich.
Goldberg: I mean bands that have been successful.
Buck: We also got lucky, too. We came along at the right time. All of our peer group, who were really great bands, broke up. Whether it's the Replacements falling apart, or the Dream Syndicate, or Hüsker Dü. Hüsker Dü could have been really huge if they'd kept it together. But they didn't. And we did.